Colour-changing windows get a palette upgrade

A new research paper could show how to easily and inexpensively expand the colour palette for glass that changes colour based on voltage. Researchers working on nanophotonics at Rice University have released a new report detailing how the use of the hydrocarbon molecule perylene can create glass able to turn two different colours at low voltage.

“When we put charges on the molecules or remove charges from them, they go from clear to a vivid color,” said Halas, director of the Laboratory for Nanophotonics (LANP), lead scientist on the new study and the director of Rice’s Smalley-Curl Institute.

“We sandwiched these molecules between glass, and we’re able to make something that looks like a window, but the window changes to different types of colour depending on how we apply a very low voltage.”

The new colour-changing glass varies its colouration depending on polarity, meaning that a positive voltage will produce one colour and a negative voltage another. The importance of the Rice team’s new method is that until now, multicolour varieties of such glass have required a much more significant voltage, limiting their use.

The type of glass itself, changing colour as a result of applied voltage, is known as electrochromic  glass and is enjoying growing popularity. The market for such material has been estimated at a value of more than $2.5bn by 2020. Aside from the visual appeal, electrochromic glass is in demand for its light and heat-blocking properties.

Grant Stec and Adam Lauchner of Rice University’s Laboratory for Nanophotonics show off the glass. Images courtesy of Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

In 2013, then-Rice physicist Alejandro Manjavacas found that polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), the family of molecules that perylene belongs to, with just a few carbon rings should produce visible plasmons. There are dozens of PAHs, all of which contain rings of carbon atoms that are decorated with hydrogen atoms.

Waves of energy that can interact with and harvest energy from passing light depending on their frequency, plasmons are a rhythmic movement in the sea of electrons that constantly flow across the surface of conductive nanoparticles. Building off Manjavacas’ work, the researchers were able to work out that the PAH plasmons were highly sensitive to charge, leading them to the conclusion they could be easily utilised for electrochromic glass.

“Dr Halas learned that one of the major hurdles in the electrochromic device industry was making a window that could be clear in one state and completely black in another,” study co-lead author Grant Stec said. “We set out to do that and found a combination of PAHs that captured no visible light at zero volts and almost all visible light at low voltage.”

The new project took almost two years to complete and relied on Stec’s design of the perylene-containing nonwater-based conductive gel that’s sandwiched between glass layers. In experimenting with the assembled window, the team found that just 4 volts was enough to turn the clear window greenish-yellow, and applying negative 3.5 volts turned it blue.

Later in the project, the team produced a second window capable of going from clear to black. In all their experiments, they found that the colour change takes a few minutes but Halas said that the transition time is improvable with additional engineering.

In the face of a collapsing market, Acer goes once more unto the smartwatch breach

Despite the fact that smartwatches are generally seeing their sales plummet, Acer has decided to release a new product into the collapsing market. Taking “an elegant approach to fitness”, the Leap Ware smartwatch seems to be fairly standard fare, using an array of fitness-tracking sensors in combination with an app to keep tabs on all of the various statistics the sensors provide.

“As the pace of modern lifestyles become ever more hectic, people demand technology that can keep them on track and motivated to pursue their goals,” said MH Wang, general manager of Smart Device Products in Acer’s IT Products Business.

“The new Acer Leap Ware is designed to act as a virtual coach to help people go, track, and share, sending them reminders and alerts when they need them the most.”

Acer obviously has to promote its product but the above statement seems somewhat bizarrely unaware of the fact that not only is the company offering pretty much the exact same thing every other smartwatch does, but is are doing so in a market that is dying a fairly nasty death. With big names like Pebble going under, and Fitbit’s stock having been on a steady decline, the persistence in putting out new products is a bold move.

In October 2016, the BBC wrote about a new report by market analysts IDC that showed amartwatch shipments declined by 51.6% year-on-year. The Apple Watch held its place as the market leader, but shipped only a quarter of the units it had sold in the same period (July-September) of 2015. And of the five leading brands, only Garmin showed growth with that growth still being underpinned by low figures.

“It has become evident that, at present, smartwatches are not for everyone,” said Jitesh Ubrani from IDC. “Having a clear purpose and use case is paramount, hence many vendors are focusing on fitness due to its simplicity.”

Images courtesy of Acer

It was pointed out by experts that the period examined was before new versions were released, but there is still a clear lack in significant consumer appetite. The market has largely survived off the fitness aspects, with other products largely falling by the wayside as the novelty wears off. And Acer itself hasn’t exactly been the premium forerunner.

The Leap Ware watch certainly seems a perfectly fine entry into the marketplace. It’s got “diverse fitness tracking features thanks to an array of sensors with advanced algorithms” and supposedly has a battery life of three to five days so you don’t miss out on logging those all-important stats. My watch only tells the time and date. It also has a battery life of ten years.

There is a reasonable chance that initial sales for the Leap Ware may be strong, being all shiny and new as it is. There’s also a very good chance they will quickly plummet as Acer discovers what consumers are desperately trying to tell them: people don’t want smartwatches anymore.

For more information and discussion of the collapse of wearable technology, check out the latest issue of Factor magazine.

Premature lambs kept alive in artificial wombs

Extremely premature lambs have been kept alive in a artificial womb. The fluid-filled plastic bag reproduces the environment of the womb and replaces the function of the placenta. The scientists responsible believe the device could be used for premature babies within the next three years.

Source: New Scientist

British engineer is using recycled plastic to build stronger roads

British engineer Toby McCartney has devised an innovative process that replaces much of the crude oil-based asphalt in pavement with pellets of plastic, made from recyclable bottles. The result is a street that’s 60% stronger than traditional roads, ten times longer-lasting as well as the obvious environmental benefits.

Source: Curbed

Elon Musk’s giant tunnel boring machine arrives at SpaceX

In February, Musk was looking at purchasing a used Herrenknecht boring machine: about 26 feet in diameter, about 400 feet long, and weighing about 1,200 tons. It’s not clear if this is the same machine, but one just arrived at SpaceX’s headquarters and can now be found in the parking lot.

Source: Electrek

Surgeon claims brain transplants are just three years away

A pioneering Italian surgeon has claimed people who have had their brains cryogenically frozen could be 'woken up' within three years. The claim is being made by professor Sergio Canavero who also claims he can carry out the first human head transplant within 10 months before he begins trials on brain transplants.

Source: The Telegraph

Facebook 'observed propaganda efforts' by governments

Facebook has revealed in a new report that it observed attempts to spread propaganda on its site, apparently orchestrated by governments or organised parties. The firm has seen "false news, disinformation, or networks of fake accounts aimed at manipulating public opinion", it said.

Source: BBC

Ex-head of Google China predicts AI will take half of all jobs in a decade

The ex-head of Google China, Kai-Fu Lee, has said that AI will be bigger than all previous tech innovations put together. "These are things that are superhuman, and we think this will be in every industry, will probably replace 50% of human jobs, create a huge amount of wealth for mankind and wipe out poverty," said Lee.

Source: CNBC